Hotel Voices: The Review

PNNscholar1 - Posted on 08 August 2010




Tuesday February 9th, 2010

The Revolutionary Theatre project co-written, co-directed and acted by writers, artists and poets currently living, surviving and sometimes thriving in Single Room Occupancy Hotels (SRO) aka poor people housing in the Bay Area.

"The play (Hotel Voices) was riveting and inspiring it touched upon many issues in SROs ------- police brutality, community and habitability issues and the non-profit industrial complex to name a few." Statement from Nathaniel Holmes following Hotel Voices. He would then tell me how my particular scene really touched him.

Entertainment, even for just a split second, is an amnesia tool for people to briefly escape whatever problems they faced in their lives. For us poverty scholars, theater art goes without saying, as all of us wants to be seen and heard.

In 2006, Tony Robles, co-editor and teacher of POOR originally helped instrument this project, as a newsletter publication for SRO Tenants to have their voices heard. He and POORs goal introduced the notion that writing is fighting to every tenant interested to have their voice heard. Having just survived the infamous S.F.P.D. onslaught at my residence of the All Star Hotel at the time, I was thrilled to write my own story of what had happened to me.

This began my journey with POOR Magazine/PNN.

Then just last year, something even more exciting happened. I learned that this project that began as a means for us poor people living an SRO to be heard would now become a full production play! I was immediately grasped with excitement and anticipation, being an SRO occupant myself.

Much has been said, read, and misled about the living conditions and characters, of people who live in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotels: Filth, crime, former felons, violence, pests, etc, etc. Nothing is said are the unsung heroes, artists, survivors, thrivers, poor working class, and poverty scholars who are collectively defiant towards marginalization.

Undetermined, un-classified, and unsanctioned for negative stereotypical categorization from the corporate media persuasion, comes the silenced voices heard, FINALLY heard that is. This was achieved through a play of revolutionary art proportions. No longer silenced voices, we were.............


Indeed, the voices of us SRO Tenants were not only heard, but our lives were seen through subsequent scenes. Sunday January 17th, 2010 began the launch of "Hotel Voices" a collaboration between Tenderloin Housing Clinic, Tony Robles, Tiny Gray-Garcia, and Bindlestiff Theatre aimed at dismantling the "war against the poor" machine and society's view based on blatant ignorance. This ignorance, however, became ill fated on this day.

Hotel Voices theatrically speaks to and educates the world surrounding the real life experiences, and actual events (some of them life-changing) of people in poverty who reside in SRO (Single Room Occupancy) Hotels. "Poor People Housing" as defined by POOR Magazine/PNN. Our own screenplays were single-handedly prepared by us, foretold by us, re-lived and physically re-enacted ONLY by us poverty scholars:

Catalina Dean, Bruce Allison, Ruyata McGlothin, (a.k.a RAM) David Elliott Lewis, Nightmare Joey, Thornton Kimes, Victor Nelson, Robert Weber, Joseph Bolden, Charles Pitts, and yours truly, Marlon Crump. In addition, Tony Robles, Allan Manalo, and "Tiny" Lisa Gray-Garcia, each of us had a significant role in this play.

Institutionalization/incarceration intro with a harmonica theme, infamous illegal po-lice room raid, finding solace soulfully and collectively through music, thwarting a pest annoyance and bad news with a song, paying homage to an unsung hero and heroes, frustration from an S.S.I check delay, and uncomfortable housing, a racially motivated attack prompting a "police response" pursuit of justice from a tenant, an ungrateful food service scenario, a prisoner of video games, a spoken word piece combating cops a child protective services.

All of the above acted, re-enacted and rigorously rehearsed for four months.

In bringing forth entertainment alongside of the possible sorrow internally felt by those who would see the play, two characters were created: "Super tenant" (Tiny) and "El Bed Bug", (Charles Pitts). Super tenant's role was to be a conscious character to SRO Tenants reminding them of their rights, while El Bed Bug is a villainous conqueror who discourages them from believing otherwise. A created character met aphorized as symbol of modern day marginalization of housed poor people.

The Jefferson Hotel, an SRO itself with a historical background, located in the San Francisco's Tenderloin District was the play's destination. Downstairs in its basement was where everyone seated. A mural art painting of SRO Hotels (by Charles Pitts, and Silencio Muteado) was fastened over the wall on center stage. The shifty weather of rain and wind would not be a barrier for people who're anxious with anticipation for the play, on this Sunday afternoon.

After people poured in for the show, they were all greeted and welcomed by Tony Robles, and Allan Manalo, director of Bindle stiff Studio. Following both of their opening addresses, all of us involved in the play appeared, dancing to a 50's "Doo Wop" theme, in a single file exiting fashion.

Then a spotlight shined on "Super tenant" and "El Bed Bug" who stood back-to-back. Both characters took turns addressing each other, in a cross-examining fashion wearing self-made costumes, out bursting their purposes to the crowd.

"Change must come from within first and from within comes my music and poetry." Nightmare Joey started off the performance, with a narration of his entire life of incarceration, institutionalization, and going forward with a positive outlook on life. Tuned through the musical means of his harmonica, equipped with his poetry are heard with his words, "Touch thyself first, and others can be touched. And hopefully, we can touch all touch each other and be uplifted by sounds and words."

The macabre musical theme to "Dark Shadows" coursed through the crowd, as Tony Robles narrated a brief intro of my upcoming scene. It was here that I re-lived October 7th, 2005, the night where members of the San Francisco Police Department illegal stormed into my room, guns drawn. For the purposes of education and healing through theater art, I was really thrilled for this re-enactment.

The manner of the appearances of the cops (played by Thornton Kimes and David Elliott Lewis) became somewhat of a "tragic comedy" as a roar of laughter followed. I was not offended by the audience's reaction though. My eyes stood cohesive with theirs, and the collective curiosities carried in their minds. I offered a poetic explanation to the obscene scene they had just witnessed.

"What crime, what crime did I commit? They committed the crime of robbing my rights. My rights were gone up like smoke.......................smoke from their unfired guns.

The lyrics to the Blues hit "Stormy Monday" was sung by Nightmare Joey for his scene. He was joined shortly thereafter by me, and Bruce Allison, in our real life portrayal of his neighbors. The three of us played in unison, illustrating to everyone that we were tuned away from life's everyday problems.

"El Bed Bug" appeared in Victor Nelson's scene during a narration by Tony. After Victor is "bitten" by him, El Bed Bug begins to casually prowl around a seated center-staged Victor. The choreographic form by El Bed Bug is ingenious, and entertaining. It was as if he were bringing animation into a motion picture. El Bed Bug and a letter of bad news from hotel management fail to ruin Victor's day. He relieves himself of both problems, with a song that sends cheers to the crowd.

Souls of the dearly departed (especially those in poverty) often go ignored, and/or even acknowledged in most places, including SROs. Robert Weber, resident of the Senator Hotel addressed that painful reality to the forefront. Marcus McCaine, a respected man in the community, was known to have a loving heart, and served in the military. The entire cast of "Hotel Voices" circled silently behind Robert, and stood for a moment of silence in paying our respects for those that passed.

In role call fashion, names of the deceased were called, with Tiny and Tony concluding, with the names of poverty heroes, Uncle Al Robles, and Mama Dee Gray.

The vocal energy delivered from the interaction between Catalina Dean, and Super tenant led to a near ear-deafening applause following Dean's scene. As Catalina sat center staged, unsure of her tenant rights, she is met uplifted by the "powers" of Super tenant to self-empower. They both begin to agree on everything wrong with the affordable housing complex, the entire system it's structured upon, and exchange the same sentiments for immediate change.

Reluctant Social Security check delivered in Publishing Clearing House style. An inadequate room rental from an obnoxious slumlord (Nightmare Joey) witnessed in Bruce's scene showed road showed no exits to prosperity, or even no peace of mind. He expressed such experience yelling, "I paid $200 for a f@#$%ing room, where the springs stick me in the ass!"

Confronted with the immediate threats of racism and death on two forefronts, with strikingly similar sequences. Joseph Bolden stumbled on these terrifying ordeals one night at his hotel. One by a mentally disturbed white man armed waving a knife, with a racist rant, "What are you looking at, blackie?!!"

The other is when two po-lice officers (me and Thornton) screamed at him, with trigger-happy tendencies. (Though Joe posed no absolute threat, and actually called for their help.) "Get your hands up! Who are you? What's in your robe? What did you call us for? A clear established example of blatant racial profiling in Joe's and my scene renews the reasons of why we at POOR practice NO po-lice calls in our community.

Unreasonable, sarcastic, arrogant, and even at times disrespectful, is what describes the true characteristics of the average politician to their constituents. Charles Pitts portrays a tenant who learns that another (Catalina) is robbed of her money, from a conman/case manager (Nightmare Joey) and help is beyond her reach. Un happy about what he has learned, the tenant seeks the aid from a local politician, named "Mr. Yearly" (played by me) who totally ignores the tenant's request to take action.

"The Hotel Iroquois. A clean functional structure occupying the rough edges of a vibrant multi-cultural community. A community populated by recent Vietnamese, Muslim, and Latino immigrants. A community also home to gay, transgender, African-American, the young and hip, condo owning yuppies, Hells Angels, artists, prostitutes, consuming subcultures; a houseless community of urban outdoorsmen, and so much more."

Narration by Nightmare Joey

David Elliott Lewis portrays a man of Christian beliefs, who is part of an outreach organization that feeds the poor. His quest to feed the needy is challenged by a recent immigrant woman from Nigeria (Catalina) one day at the Hotel Iroquois. She demands more than her equal share from him. The woman not only demands more servings from him, but she questions his own judge of character after his prayer for "deliverance from evil."

"Street fighters, ready, set, FIGHT!"

This particular scene was quite un-usual at least it was for me in playing a video game character. The two characters (Charles and Thornton) were portraying a couple of video game players; while me and my partner (Silencio Muteado) played the actual video game characters of "Streetfighter."This story was about how one game player sought to keep their video game desires afloat, by constant money borrowing, while the other does not. Unusual, yes but very fun, nonetheless.

A poem presented from Ruyata Akio McClothin a.k.a "RAM" titled "Police Raid Day" detailed a brief description of resistance towards po-lice repression from his mother. Defiant from threats of CPS (Child Protection Services), and a po-lice officer's attacks on her humility (as a woman) causes her to stand her ground. "F@#$ you, pig! Take me to jail!"

Super tenant and El Bed Bug came face-to-face, in what would be the last time. Super tenant tells him that poor people were going to take back their land and resources. "Its over, we have won!" As El Bed Bug gestures to Super tenant that he does heed her words, the entire cast of "Hotel Voices" appear on the stage, staring at him sternly. Faced with overwhelming odds, El Bed Bug flees from all of those he has (and/or has tried to) oppressed, in a circle of solidarity.

Mama Dee, in the spiritual guise of a pigeon cooed from outside of the hotel basement throughout our last remaining rehearsal weeks.

Her message to all of us was that she was here with the spirit of the spirit of "Hotel Voices."

"There is more than one way to teach political consciousness. The revolution can also come through Hollywood bling, performances, storytelling, poetry, and art." Legendary words from "Mama" Dee Gray, Poverty Hero, POOR co-founder, mother of "Tiny" Lisa Gray-Garcia.


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